The German maestro picked up his first assist of the campaign and his first in a red (or yellow) shirt, combining well with striker Olivier Giroud and midfield teammates Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott on the flank.
However, Arsenal’s most creative player last term did not feature last weekend – Santi Cazorla was absent from Arsene Wenger’s line-up due to illness and will miss the Champions League tie tomorrow.
Cazorla took all the plaudits last term and rightly so – having only arrived in England last summer, the 28-year-old attacking midfielder contributed 12 goals and 14 assists across all competitions. His contribution to Arsenal’s creative play was crucial to their qualification for the Champions League by finishing fourth ahead of Tottenham and his overall impact on the team was immense.
His technical quality – his control, his passing technique, his range of passing, his vision, intelligence, movement, finishing and work rate make him one of the finest talents in the league. Commentators and analysts alike rushed to applaud him on a weekly basis and with the arrival of Ozil, the continent’s Mr Assist, Arsenal may have one of the most gifted midfields on the planet.
How will they combine? Cazorla’s style of play, whether in a central attacking midfield position or out wide on the flank, it about controlling the tempo of the game. In a similar function to Cesc Fabregas, Cazorla’s ability to switch the play, create space and find that perfectly weighted final ball for his teammates makes him one of the most dangerous players in the league.
He floats in and around the middle of the park and final third in a Xavi-like fashion, ghosting as they say – one minute you see him, the next he’s gone. He also, like Jack Wilshere and the departed former skipper, holds on to the ball until the latest possible moment, which draws the opposition towards him and creates space for his teammates in the void.
Time and space are crucial – his technique and vision gives him the capability to see a pass, turn his head the other way to deceive the defender, and slip the pass through the channels and this is where he is most effective for Arsenal.
Ozil possesses similar potent qualities but his style of play is slightly different – it’s nuanced and his development in the Bundesliga and La Liga means he has acquired a deftness of touch that you don’t often see in England. He glides around the final third with the ball as if it’s somehow attached to his feet by magic. It often seems effortless – similarly to when you watch Lionel Messi. It’s the ‘how did he do that’ factor.
Ozil is not a showboater like Cristiano Ronaldo – he will run with the ball and take on defenders if necessary but that’s not where his comfort zone and strength is – his strength is his vision and precision. We saw on Saturday how good his control is when, with one touch, he brought a 40-yard pass down and then simply flicked it with the outside of his boot to find Olivier Giroud for the opening goal.
The key to Ozil’s game, however, is that he sees where the player is going to be, not where he is – average players will pass to the man, Ozil passes to the space and this is where he and Cazorla are going to cause some real damage to teams this season.
They are both highly intelligent players who have honed their craft to become like architects of total football. They have developed to a technical level that very few players ever reach. Those players who develop beyond that level are the greats of the modern age – Messi, Ronaldo, Xavi, Andres Iniesta.
What makes Ozil and Cazorla better suited to Arsenal and Arsene Wenger’s style and philosophy is that they are not DIY men.
They are not Gareth Bale or Ronaldo types who desire to do everything themselves and have all the spotlight on them all the time – that’s demonstrated by the fact that Ozil left Madrid to come to Arsenal, a club that values the player’s talent and contribution to the team rather than valuing the player’s name and individual contribution.
Wenger’s philosophy is always (sometimes to the frustration of the fans) to pass rather than shoot – if you see your teammate in a better position, pass to him. The philosophy is based on intelligence and efficiency with the ball, not showing off and that is likely what appealed to Ozil, amongst other things, because he is that kind of player, as is Cazorla.
What these two players will contribute in canon or unison is the football equivalent of an unselfish good deed. They will be putting goals on a plate for their teammates, drawing opponents on to them to create space for their mates and orchestrating the play via their passing and switching, stretching teams until they are at breaking point and the gaps open up.
At Real Madrid, Mesut Ozil was surrounded by DIY players, players who love the attention and spotlight permanently fixed on them. That is not the Arsenal way – that is the antithesis of the Arsenal way.
Arsenal under Wenger are a team that wows with team goals, the spectacle of a move that strings fifty passes together, dancing around the opposition until that final pass arrives at the feet of a man standing in the goalmouth. That is what we can expect when Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla combine for the Gunners – taps ins. Beautiful, mesmerizing, spectacular tap ins.